The Mycobacterium tuberculosis-specific insertion sequence IS6110/986 has been widely used as a probe because of the multiple polymorphism observed among different strains. To investigate transposition of IS6110, a series of artificially constructed composite transposons containing IS6110 and a kanamycin resistance marker were constructed. The composite transposons were inserted into a conditionally replicating, thermosensitive, Escherichia coli-mycobacterial shuttle vector and introduced into M. smegmatis mc2155. Lawns of transformants were grown at the permissive temperature on kanamycin-supplemented agar and subsequently prevented from further growth by shifting to the non-permissive temperature. Under normal atmospheric conditions, kanamycin-resistant papillae appeared after only about 5-6 weeks of incubation. However, these events were not associated with transposon mobilization. In contrast, lawns that were exposed to a 48 h microaerobic shock generated kanamycin-resistant papillae after only 6-14 days. These events were generated by conservative transposition of the IS6110 composite transposon into the M. smegmatis chromosome, with loss of the shuttle vector. In common with other IS3 family elements, transposition of IS6110 is thought to be controlled by translational frameshifting. However, we were unable to detect any significant frameshifting within the putative frameshifting site of IS6110, and the level of frameshifting was not affected by microaerobic incubation. The finding that transposition of IS6110 is stimulated by incubation at reduced oxygen tensions may be relevant to transposition of IS6110 in M. tuberculosis harboured within TB lesions.
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